Skip to content

Five things we learned: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 24

Sep 15, 2013, 1:32 AM EDT

Notre Dame v Purdue Getty Images

For those hoping that Notre Dame would use Saturday night as a sparring session against an outmanned Purdue team, it took just 12 plays to know that this wouldn’t be a cakewalk. Dreams of getting freshmen playing time and defenders stats by the bushel came crashing to a halt as Purdue took it to the No. 21 Fighting Irish for much of the first half, before Notre Dame pulled away late to win 31-24.

After getting smacked in the nose by Cincinnati and barely beating Indiana State, this game didn’t look like it’d be much on paper, with Purdue a hefty three touchdown underdog. But the Boilermakers came out of the gates sprinting, putting together an impressive first half, dominating the stat sheet and taking a lead into halftime with the Irish offense faltering and the defense a step behind and lucky to be down by just a touchdown.

But after some halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball, Tommy Rees and DaVaris Daniels put together a prolific game, while the defense buzzed Purdue quarterback Rob Henry, all but icing the game when senior cornerback Bennett Jackson returned an interception 34-yards for a touchdown.

A win is a win is a win. But Saturday night’s victory accentuated the difference between this football team and last year’s edition, with the defense once again struggling to play the type of fundamental defense that was a bedrock for Bob Diaco’s unit. But the Irish shrugged off a slow start, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter to win 31-24, scoring four touchdowns in the second half after being stymied for the game’s first 30 minutes.

Let’s take a look at what we learned during Notre Dame’s hard fought 31-24 victory in West Lafayette.

***

With no true pass rush to speak of, the Irish need to find a way to get off the field on third down. 

We can talk until we’re blue in the face about the Irish’s fearsome front seven. But stats eventually tell the story and Notre Dame’s trio of All-American caliber players, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Prince Shembo have a whopping one sack between the three of them after a quarter of the regular season.

The hallmark of Bob Diaco’s defense will never be rushing the passer, but eventually the Irish are going to need to be able to dial up a pass rush without selling the farm and putting their secondary in man coverage. And while Tuitt got a sack against Temple when head coach Matt Rhule said he gambled by taking on the All-American defensive end one-on-one, this defense desperately needs more out of its star defensive end, who has tallied just one tackle in the past two games.

Nix is playing great football, with the senior nose guard taking on constant double teams while plugging the middle of the field. But Shembo and Tuitt have yet to get on track, with Tuitt a step slow on a number of pass rush opportunities while Shembo seems to be spending a lot of time in pass coverage. (The last time we saw that it was a wasted season for Shembo, who as a sophomore struggled in space while manning the Dog linebacker position.)

The lack of pass rush was apparent for most of the first half, when Purdue converted some tough third downs that just didn’t happen last season. The Irish gave up four conversions of third and seven or longer in the game’s first 30 minutes, lucky to get out of the first half down by just one score.

Even when the Irish defense buckled down there were still some head-scratching conversions, none more so than the 4th and 7 conversion that resulted in a touchdown that got Purdue back within one score in the fourth quarter. With three Irish defenders dropping into zone coverage, Henry had to unload his throw early. But KeiVarae Russell watched tight end Justin Sinz catch a nine yard touchdown in front of him, pulling Purdue back into the game.

That type of defense can’t happen if the Irish want to be a BCS team. After allowing Purdue to convert 7 of 16 third downs and the Irish getting their only sack by Bennett Jackson on a broken play, it’s time for this group to figure out a way to get after the quarterback and get off of the field.

***

For much of the first half, the Irish were their own worst enemy on offense, refusing to stretch the field. 

Nobody will believe that Tommy Rees can throw the ball down the field if Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin don’t either. And that’s what happened for most of the first half as the Irish offense stifled itself, refusing to stretch the field vertically while allowing Purdue to jam the box, play tight on their receivers, and shut down an offense that was supposed to roll.

It wasn’t all playcalling that made things tough on Notre Dame. The Irish dropped four passes in the first half, with Troy Niklas, Amir Carlisle and DaVaris Daniels doing Tommy Rees no favors as they failed to make some routine plays. But with Purdue unafraid of the Irish trying to beat them over the top, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson made running the football mighty tough for Notre Dame, with the Irish averaging a mediocre 2.5 yards a carry against a team that gave up 221 rushing yards to Cincinnati. They also were routinely blowing up the Irish screen game, nearly intercepting a few throws as their defenders went all-in stopping the short passing game.

Rees hit Chris Brown for a beautiful long strike for 40-yards in the second quarter. But it took an acrobatic catch by TJ Jones on the Irish’s first drive of the third quarter for the Irish to consistently challenge Purdue down field, which they did for much of the second half.

Only after stretching the Purdue defense were the Irish able to get some offensive flow going, with Daniels playing his best game in an Irish uniform, leading the team with eight catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, with the highlight being a go route Daniels caught in stride and then tip-toed the sideline while stiff-arming Ricardo Allen away for an 82-yard touchdown. But it shouldn’t take two quarters to remember that this team can strike down the field, and Rees has shown a much better touch downfield than he’s had in the past.

***

While using a lot of personnel is a good thing, being predictable certainly isn’t. 

Last year, Chuck Martin and Brian Kelly showed a propensity for using different players for different jobs. Troy Niklas was a glorified offensive tackle. Theo Riddick was the Irish’s lone pass catching option out of the backfield while also doubling as the short yardage running back. Calling plays that utilize players’ abilities is a good thing. But being predictable certainly isn’t.

Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell verbalized one of the knocks against Brian Kelly’s offensive philosophy at half time when he credited film study for knowing what and where the Irish offense would be.

“They’re doing a good job of recognizing some formations and some tendencies out of formations,” Hazell said of his defense.

The Irish offense was almost burnt a few times when the Purdue defense keyed on formational tendencies tells you that some formations are starting to become a giveaway to opposing defenses.

It’s not just Notre Dame fans that know when Daniel Smith and Troy Niklas are split out wide, it’s usually because they’re blocking. Defensive coordinators notice that, too. And while you need to give credit to Chuck Martin for calling a quarterback draw out of the empty set (Rees converted it for one of the ugliest two-yard gains of the night), it’s time for the Irish to make sure they’re doing enough self scouting.

***

A year after doing all of the little things right, the Irish’s growing pains on defense are quite obvious. 

That the Irish defense isn’t the dominating group that most expected is a surprise. But on second thought, maybe it shouldn’t be. While it’s easy to point to the large group of returning starters, the leader of every unit needed to be replaced. Kapron Lewis-Moore’s void on the defensive front is felt. Losing Zeke Motta as the leader of the secondary is glaring. And Manti Te’o’s absence is painfully obvious. For all the punchlines that came with Te’o’s catfishing and draft slide, his instincts are sorely missed at linebacker.

Kelly talked about the defense’s struggles last week on Sirius XM radio with Jack Arute and Rick Neuheisel, speaking candidly about the transition.

“You know I don’t have Harrison Smith, who’s starting for the Vikings, and I don’t have Zeke Motta, who’s with Tampa Bay, and those were my last two safeties,” Kelly said. “Our safeties have to play better, there’s no question. And our corners have to improve. Our backer play is getting better, we’re playing a true freshman at the outside backer position. Those are the guys we’ve got. And we’ve got to get them better and coach them better. Our front is getting the job done, but we have to play better in the secondary and we’re committed to making sure that happens.”

Getting back to the basics — especially for young players — will be key for this group. Guys like Cole Luke are being counted on to play a lot of snaps, and learning from your mistakes will be important. Credit Luke for not getting beat inside on a slant route after having it happen to him earlier in the game. But after playing major minutes last season, it’s still clear KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley are still learning on the job. That’s fine for a guy that’s playing a complementary role. It’s a lot tougher when you’re counting on them to be frontline starters.

***

A season after riding ugly victories all the way to the National Championship game, give credit to Tommy Rees and the Irish for getting out of West Lafayette alive. 

Selective memory is a wonderful thing. As the Irish were struggling to hang in there during the first half, the groans from the fans grew louder and louder (on the live blog at least). Some called for Tommy Rees’ head. Some questioned if Bob Diaco had lost it. Others yearned for the days of Charlie Weis the playcaller. (Really, I’m not kidding.) But on a Saturday night where not everything went right, give credit to Notre Dame for doing everything it needed to do in the second half to go home a winner.

“We didn’t start very well, but we hung in there,” Kelly said after the game. “We kept playing, kept fighting. I told our team we’re still kind of defining who we are. We’re still trying to find ourselves. Here’s what we did. We played hard for four quarters and we fought our butts off. Then we found a way to make some plays, and we feel really good about our kids and the way they played.”

At running back, Cam McDaniel was the guy that got the call, brushing off four stitches to the head at halftime to carry the ball ten times as the Irish held onto the ball for the game’s final 7:22 to run out the clock. And after struggling last weekend in coverage, captain Bennett Jackson made a huge play running back a pick six while also getting a sack on Rob Henry.

Nobody did more in the second half than Tommy Rees. After struggling with the offense in the first half, Rees played a lights out second half completing 13 of his 17 throws 215 yards and two touchdowns, while converting a clutch five of six on passing third downs.

“I’m really proud of the way he settled down in the second half and helped our football team win,” Kelly said after the game.

In the end, it wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. On a day when Michigan stopped Akron on two plays inside the five yard line to pull out a win and Army gave Stanford all they could handle, an ugly victory counts the same as a dominant one. But if this team is going to achieve what it needs to, there’s work to be done.

And don’t think for a second Brian Kelly doesn’t know it.

“We know we’ve got good players and we’ve got good personnel,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to figure out the parts and the pieces and where they go and I really like the way they fought and some of the things that came out tonight.”

  1. 1historian - Sep 15, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    They said on TV last night that Ara Parseghian lost more games to Purdue – 5 – than any Notre Dame coach before or since.

    I did not know that.

    • wisner74 - Sep 15, 2013 at 1:29 PM

      Purdue was turning out some pretty darn good QBs back then. Len Dawson, Bob Griese. They also had a fine coach. Jack Mollenkopf, or something like that. Purdue has a pretty rich football tradition of its own. One of the several reasons the Boilers are a bigger rival than the Wolverines, in my opinion.

      • ndclassof60 - Sep 15, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        But Len Dawson played at Purdue long before Parseghian reached ND.

      • wisner74 - Sep 15, 2013 at 2:41 PM

        The thumbs down here kind of baffled me at first. Re Purdue I didn’t say anything controversial, I thought.

        Then it occurred to me: Purdue a better rival than UM?, and I had to chuckle. I think we have a generational divide here. If you’re under 40, you must think I’m talking through my hat, but I believe that the further north of 40 you are the more you agree with me. Lots of us became ND fans during an era when UM was nowhere on the radar screen, and PU had a habit of having great QBs on teams that if they didn’t beat ND at least made it a very tough game. In addition to the guys I mention above, Mike Phipps, Mark Hermann, etc all the way up to Drew Brees. I know I’m forgetting some names.

        Nude, 1historian, care to back me up on this?

      • nudeman - Sep 15, 2013 at 5:29 PM

        Wisner
        You are absolutely correct and you didn’t even mention the best one – Bob Griese who I think beat ND 3x

      • papadec - Sep 15, 2013 at 5:38 PM

        wis – you are absolutely correct in your over/under 40 year old observation. 85 games – give-or-take (in a 126 year history) & the in-state aspect. I don’t see ND dropping Purdue – even with the ACC 5 game requirement.

      • rays15 - Sep 16, 2013 at 12:20 AM

        It was Mike Phipps who beat Ara’s teams 3 straight season, ’67-’69. The ’68 game was a match of No. 1 ND vs No. 2 Purdue. Phipps had a fair NFL career.

    • nudeman - Sep 15, 2013 at 7:21 PM

      Wisner
      You are absolutely correct and you didn’t even mention the best one – Bob Griese who I think beat ND 3x

  2. irishaggie - Sep 15, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Like I’ve said before College Football road games are extremely tough to win. We won. I’ll take it. Learn from it, forget that we were 3 TD favorites and move on to Michigan State. Last year we barely beat BYU and then went and beat Oklahoma. By the way why are we complaining about the offense. I know we’re still predictable like last year but this is a huge step up from last year. Last year our D was great and we couldn’t score. If our D was good this year we would be demolishing teams.

  3. yogihilt - Sep 15, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    HARVUPDIKE
    Are you seriously trying to tell us, what everybody in the country knows, that Alabama is a great football team? Really? You are pretty smart! Nadal is great in Tennis, P Manning is a great QB, Miami Heat are also great. Now, those are some other startling facts.
    Tell us something we don’t know, idiot. Read a book, without pictures.

    • wisner74 - Sep 15, 2013 at 1:32 PM

      Yogi – I propose we all ignore commenters like Harv. I agree with what you say, but I didn’t need to read it. I’m much more interested in your thoughts on ND football. And we can all be happy that loadofwash seems to have disappeared.

      • 1historian - Sep 15, 2013 at 1:43 PM

        Wis – I and many others have urged people to ignore Harv, but nobody listens. Harv is actually kind of funny.

  4. ndrocks2 - Sep 15, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    RB by committee will continue, BK will ride the hot hand QT by QT until/if someone steps up

    DB’s spent too much time reading their headlines from last year, they need to find the right group ASAP

    Rees keeps his turnovers to one or less and he’ll be fine this year

    As mentioned, predictability of the play calling on offense and defense is killing us

    WR’s are fantastic, we need to use early and often to help open up an equally talented RB group, hard to move on the ground when they have 7/8 in the box

  5. wisner74 - Sep 15, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    In ’88 very few people expected ND to be Nat’l Champs. They were considered a year away. A huge ingredient in that team’s success, acknowledged afterward by Holtz, was the senior leadership of guys like Frank Stams and Wes Pritchett, who really emerged not just as players but as vocal leaders.

    The same happened last season. If you recall, pre-season BK challenged T’eo, who always was considered a leader, to be more of a vocal leader and T’eo responded magnificently. Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta, Theo Riddick and Theo Riddick also stepped forward in big ways.

    I don’t think you can be a championship-caliber team without that type of team leadership. Coaches can’t provide it, and they can’t develop it. They can only encourage it. Like T’eo did last year, the players have to step up on their own.

    We’ve got Zach Martin and TR on offense, but who are those guys on defense this year? I don’t see them yet.

  6. 1historian - Sep 15, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    I said in an earlier post that IMO this team is a work in progress and I really believe that. They are going to get better every week and I would love to see them hit their peak when the trojans run out on the field next month.

    collegiate humor from 1967 – “Trojans won’t last a period”

    • wisner74 - Sep 15, 2013 at 2:49 PM

      More collegiate humor, this from 1972 (or so) in a season when ND played USC and Navy back to back:

      “First we’ll get the Trojans, then bring on the Seamen!” (or something like that, and courtesy of some guys in either Zahm or Cavanagh Hall — I don’t recall which.)

      • bb90grad - Sep 16, 2013 at 9:49 AM

        We said the same in ’87; guess we were recycling before it was PC.

  7. bigjdeezy - Sep 15, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    1. Tuitt’s weight gain has hurt his play. After watching his 1 on 1′s vs Zach martin and seeing him look like he was tired and out of shape. My concern is of the 19lbs weight gain how much was lean muscle mass and how much was fat? It seems to me that it was all fat and affecting the way he runs and plays, he’s not the same playing that returned a fumble 70 something yard vs navy.
    2. Cam is our man! Cam needs to be the one getting the load of the carries use AC as our change of pace speed back, and use GAIII in the toss/pitch plays to use his speed to get to the out side.
    3. What is wrong with KeiVarae Russell? He may not be as great as everyone thought. He can not play man to man he is strictly a zone CB. Our DBs look lost as a whole Motta must have been the glue that held the secondary together
    4. Team speed on defense is terrible to often I see the D staying in a base front causing Jaylon Smith to be in coverage, i’m sure that he has great cover skills for a LB but with him being a freshmen and the ability to run a nickel and get more DBs and speed on the field
    5. The oline play is questionable I thought Nick Martin was going to help make the transition from Cave smooth but it seems to be slower than most thought. Stanley need to step up at RT he hasn’t played badly but I seen a few missed blocks, he will be the vet at tackle next season

  8. J Gran - Sep 15, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    3 Observations:

    1. Turning point.

    When TJ caught the circus catch on the half yard line, this game turned. Here’s how you can tell. We all know TJ is polite, funny at times, and a good guy, but after that catch while it was being reviewed, you saw fire. He was marching up and down the sidelines yelling at his teammates. A few minutes later, after the score, you saw Tommy gather ALL the offense and have a pep-talk. From there Jackson gambled on an underneath route and came up big. Fire, team, gambling- all set up by one captain becoming vocal… finally!

    2. Wrong skill guys, but right skill guys for now.

    A number of our best players aren’t ready. We have the wrong guys in crucial positions, but they’re better than an ill-prepared youngster. But don’t be fooled, they aren’t championship level players.

    QB: Highest Ceiling, Zaire. Whose playing, Tommy. He is not a championship QB, but is doing his best.
    RB- Highest ceiling, Amire or MAYBE Bryant. Whose playing- All of them (part of the problem) GAIII: Remember after Armondo Allen’s Junior year he said he studied tape and realized he went down to easily… GAIII is the same way. Watch the tape and you’ll see how many arms take down number four. Cam- love him, not a championship back. Stop if you think he is. Size, speed, moves, none are comparable to any Oregon back. Toughness is awesome, but he’s not at that top level.
    CB: Highest ceiling, Luke? Whose playing, Russell. Did OK last year when we had a better pass rush, but with a pretty non-existent pass rush (more later), he’s high and dry. Not his fault, he’s not a cover corner, we saw that last year. But he’s better than Luke right now.
    SS/WS: Highest ceiling, Redmen (tangible wise), whose playing, Farley, Schumate, and COLLINSWORTH?! If you can’t read the offense, you can’t play, and Redmen needs to hurry up and learn, but until then we’ll be stuck with mid-level starters.

    All this to say, I’ve lowered my expectations this year but have significantly increased them for two years from now when Rochell, Smith, Everett, Bryant, Daniels, Redmen, and Stanley are ruling the team.

    3. Kelly is gone by 2015.

    Not that it’s going to be us kicking him out, but I felt this way half way through the Michigan game. I can’t shake the feeling that he is uncomfortable at ND and is not wanting to be there in a year or two. Contract was just signed though?! Correct. If it’s not signed now, he looses any recruiting steam, and his stock goes down. He’s waiting for his chance to move up, whether SEC or NFL. Which leads me to a statement I never thought I’d say- if he is able to (not sure of his sanctions), ND should hire Jim Tressel when Kelly leaves.

    Let the thumbs downs fly!

    • wisner74 - Sep 15, 2013 at 8:04 PM

      Seems like a pretty cogent analysis to me. I’m not sure why all the thumbs down, unless it’s because you are predicting some negative developments.

    • danirish - Sep 15, 2013 at 9:52 PM

      I was a bit premature in my earlier assessment of Tommy Rees not being a leader – I did forget his pow wow in the 4th qtr but I think Cam McDaniel is an every down back. You say he is not a championship back and compare him to Oregon backs? Oregon backs who have won a championship?

      None have.

      Cam is the man. I’m not saying forget the rest – I still think Bryant and Folstean need a healthy dose of the ball but Cam put the not for real talk to bed.

  9. thefightinfloyds - Sep 15, 2013 at 6:21 PM

    Tough game, good to get the win. At home and at night on national TV you knew Purdue was going to be ready to play this game. Sparty will be interesting, it looks like they may have gotten their O on track….I know it was against Youngstown St but I expect another knock down, drag em out type of game against MSU. A win is win, learn what you can and move on to the next opponent. I will say this about the playcalling…when the screen pass is taken away because the D is playing tight why would you continue to call screens. I was waiting for one of those passes to be taken back for 6 other than that I really wasnt surprised by the result.

  10. 1historian - Sep 15, 2013 at 7:11 PM

    Winning knock ‘em out drag ‘em OUT games in the early season is A good

  11. 1historian - Sep 15, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    thing. it builds team character and toughness and leaders emerge. This is not a great team, but it is a damn good one and IMO most important it is one we can be proud of. I know I am and that’s really all that counts for me.

  12. jem5b - Sep 15, 2013 at 8:15 PM

    Kelly’s comments today.
    http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/091513aaa.html

  13. fnc111 - Sep 15, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    I’m a genius. People should start re-reading my posts from the summer. I will accept your apology.

  14. eprobono - Sep 16, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    This is what I’ve learned about ND.

    This ND team has 7-5 written all over it, and hasn’t built a very impressive resume thus far.

    A mediocre win over a Temple team that goes on to lose to Fordham.
    A double-digit loss to Michigan team which barely escapes against Akron.
    Struggling to beat a Purdue team which most ranking services put at the bottom of the B1G.

    • 1historian - Sep 21, 2013 at 7:50 AM

      This team is still finding itself & coming back against Purdue is another step. ND leads in the Purdue series but anyone expecting them to roll over for ND is kidding himself – no matter what the talent differential.

      In large part ND fans and students don’t really have a lot of respect for Purdue and they know it and they don’t like it so they bring their a-game every time – it’s a good test of character for ND.

  15. edhoculi - Sep 17, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    Again, really felt like we dropped the ball here. There was a chance there midway during the 3rd quarter where I felt like we were going to see 2 men kissing. Still came close, but close is not good enough at this point.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!